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How Jazz May Have Influenced The Beatles

By Published: September 30, 2009

Modern Jazz

A second aspect of "She Loves You" to highlight is the notes on the syllables..." [I saw her] yes-ter-day-y-ay," in the verse. Here there is a possible bebop influence. Dizzy Gillespie fans may recognize the resemblance, melodically and rhythmically, to the last part of the phrase "ooh bop she bam-a-klook-a- mop," from the novelty bop classic "Ooh Bop She Bam," on the "bam-a-klook-a-mop" part. [The "klook" or "kloog," by the way, is a reference to one of bebop's originators, the drummer Kenny "Klook" Clarke].

The melodist of "She Loves You" at this point (whoever it was, Lennon or McCartney) places this triplet hook in "higher" parts of the chord (the lower voice begins on the third, the higher on the fifth), but the resemblance is there. Gillespie's hit was very well known, and despite the slight novelty flavor, is a basic part of jazz literature.

Yet, it is equally possible that the idea came the thirties hit "Moonglow," referred to above by George Harrison as one of the "old songs" the band quickly added to their repertoire to meet the demands of the many hours on stage in Hamburg. The third phrase of "Moonglow" (as in, for example, the very well-known Benny Goodman Quartet version) ends with a triplet flourish of the notes (in the key of G major) B-D-B—these are the same notes (triplet) of the lower voice in "She Loves You" on..." day-y-ay" (above). The higher voice, as noted above, begins on the dominant note: D-F#-D.

There is also a repetition of the hook (beginning on the third note) by Stan Getz in his solo on the famous sax and guitar quintet recording, with the Johnny Smith
Johnny Smith
Johnny Smith
1922 - 2013
Quintet, from 1952, of "Moonlight On Vermont."

Modern jazz may have suggested, or reinforced the suggestion from "Moonglow," of an interesting triplet for The Beatles' melody. It is also interesting to note that the Gillespie figure is built on the relatively earth-bound tonic note, and the "Moonglow" and Getz examples are built on the third note in the chord. Yet, The Beatles (in the higher of their two melodic lines) take it to the top, basing the triplet on the dominant note. The latter is the most colorful use of the figure by a long way, this bright effect being obtained by placing the figure high in the chord. This use of melody in the higher areas of the chord was a Charlie Parker innovation. Certainly, it appears that bebop, as well as older jazz, helped build The Beatles (there are further examples below).

In any event, The Beatles appear to have absorbed licks from jazz, and then pumped them out in their songs. Here, a piece of jazz decoration (or melodic variation)—or riff, in the case of Gillespie's record—wound up in a big, formative Beatles hit.

There are, of course, further example of bop's (general) influence on The Beatles. In the film "A Hard Day's Night" (United Artists, 1964) there is a scene where McCartney slowly and carefully plays over a distinctively Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
passage on the piano while the others talk. So here is commercially-released cinematic evidence of McCartney researching Monk, and how his music worked.

Is there an actual Monk footprint in a later Beatles tune? Well, "Yesterday" changes key, from concert F major to the relative minor D minor, almost immediately the tune starts, on the words "[Yesterday] love was such an easy game to play;" this is not a usual thing in any music, rock or classical. Monk also did this, for example simply beginning a tune with abrupt and blunt chromatically descending major chords. This could, to some, seem relatively tuneless, but the idea certainly conveys the impression of an early key change, a key change almost as soon as the tune begins.

McCartney may therefore have Monk (very active in the early sixties) to thank for the idea of an immediate key switch, as in "Yesterday." (Then again, perhaps the mysterious Neapolitan song mentioned above was the source!). McCartney did it again with "Michelle," released later the same year. ["Yesterday" was from Help (EMI, 1965) and "Michelle" from Rubber Soul (EMI, 1965)].

Immediate key changes in The Beatles' songs have also been discussed by American classical composer Ned Rorem (called by some "the father of American song") in an interesting contemporary (1967) article on The Beatles, (re-published in his book Setting The Tone, of 1983). Of "Michelle," Rorem writes the song..." changes key on the very second measure (which is also the second word )..." ["Michelle ma belle." This is similar to "Yesterday;" the latter changes key on the third bar, but "Yesterday" is in the "quicker" time signature of 2/4 so it appears to happen as quickly as in "Michelle"].

Rorem continues..." in itself this is 'allowed'—Poulenc [the twentieth century French composer] often did it... the point is that he chose to do it on just the second measure and that the choice worked...," presumably implying that McCartney wrote the immediate key change naturally, by choice and/or feeling. But the Monk exposure does suggest itself as a possible source of the concept, an unusual one as acknowledged by Rorem singling out Poulenc as a rare example of a composer who engaged in the practice. McCartney is, after all, seen absorbing Monk's unconventional approaches in "A Hard Day's Night"—just as Rorem describes how he himself, as a teenager, absorbed Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
's mannerisms and Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
's approach to the piano, when he discusses the way jazz influenced him. He says, (in an article written in 1981) how he was inevitably influenced by jazz simply by "growing up" with it..." I was as influenced by pre-war jazz as by 'serious' music." Not the tune itself but Billie Holliday's way with a tune taught me how to knead a vocal phrase, just as Count Basie's piano playing still shapes my piano composing."

Thus we see a leading classical composer (and one famous, in particular, as an "art song" writer) explaining how jazz's influence worked on him. This assists in understanding how jazz may, in turn, have influenced other composers, such as Lennon and McCartney. Jazz is a very strong and vibrant form of music, from Basie's piano lines to Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
's fluidity. (Morgan himself appears shortly). And so jazz has to influence people with ears, whatever their field of music.

Aside from McCartney, there is evidence that Lennon listened to much modern jazz. In 1966, he gave an interview to the journalist Maureen Cleeve of the London "Evening Standard" newspaper. Cleeve noted that his room included a "large" collection of "modern jazz." This is surely not surprising: immediately before The Beatles' came on the scene, the most advanced and "forward-looking" music was indeed "modern" jazz. From The Beatles' own "growth-ring" album of Rubber Soul and its successor Revolver, they themselves took over as the most advanced music of the day. But before that, it was newer jazz. There was great innovation from jazz artists in the late '50s and early to mid '60s. Coltrane, Morgan, Monk (already mentioned) and others were all in the ascendant. So, compositional influences were going to come from contemporaneous music, they would certainly come from modern jazz (as well as from the recently developed Motown, of course—McCartney was a big fan of the innovative Motown studio bassist, James Lee Jamerson).

There would seem to be specific examples in the Beatles' tunes. For example, in 1965 Lennon wrote "Day Tripper," another number one (with it's flip-side "We Can Work It Out"). After the standard blues changes at the start of the verse (over the powerful riff on the E and A chords), Lennon, instead of moving to the perhaps expected B major to round things off, moves to an F# major chord, on the words..." [She's a] day tripper, Sunday driver, yeah." This is the change that trumpeter Lee Morgan makes on "The Sidewinder," from his 1962 album of the same name. Instead of the usual V chord, there is a II (that is, a major) chord. After his F# chord, Lennon of course eventually does wind back to the tonic E major via various chords including the dominant B major.

The similarity to the Morgan classic is such that it seems most possible that it is where this hooky (harmonic) aspect of "Day Tripper" came from. It is a very distinctive chord shift, trying for something different in the blues format.

Of course, Lennon may have thought of it anyway, especially being the imaginative person that he was, but it is in "The Sidewinder." "The Sidewinder" is very well known, and Lennon had a "large... modern jazz" collection—presumably mainly "Blue Note" (Morgan's label), as "Blue Note" by then had the monopoly on modern jazz releases.

"The Sidewinder (Lee Morgan):

Before this, in 1964 Lennon sang lead on the Larry Williams rock and roll song "Slow Down;" the Beatles version sounds more like "The Sidewinder" than anything else—it is a twelve bar blues played in a similar funky piano style. The Williams original, by comparison, is a '50s rock and roll sound (Williams was groomed as successor to Little Richard by their mutual label, Specialty Records, when the latter "retired").

In addition to harmony, modern jazz (in particular bebop) may have influenced The Beatles in another way as well. The melody of "Yesterday," (the tune is discussed to an extent above with regard to harmony), can sound a little like a Parker line: consider what happens if you don't sound the last syllable of each of the four phrases of the verse of the song:

"Yester - Love was such an easy game to - Now I need to hide a -I believe in yester -"

Sung without the missing syllables, it will begin to sound like the short snappy phrases of Parker rushing around the more traditional chord progression. In addition, the rock era saw male vocals become established in a pitch area higher than the classic jazz baritone Sinatra style crooner voice. This can be seen as the male vocal equivalent of a higher pitched alto voice such as Parker's, necessary to play (or sing) the higher intervals of the chord—the moment when he "came alive" (in his own words) in the chicken shack in 1939 playing over the higher intervals of a chord with guitarist Biddy Fleet. A currently successful European conductor once asked if "Yesterday" was sung falsetto:"That's falsetto, isn't it?" "Yesterday" is not falsetto, but to a classical musician used to lower male singing, the higher area of the chord sing on many rock/pop records may sound, relatively, falsetto.

Thus, Parker could be said to have re-designed melody, putting it into the area of the higher reaches of the chord. In this way, he didn't just change jazz, he changed music. Instead of the "written for baritone" songs like "Embraceable You" or "Stardust," tunes were in general now faster, lighter, like "Yesterday" and most rock chart music of the sixties (Elvis apart)—male vocals were now (and have remained) more highly pitched. Although it is not possible in actual melodic terms to join a direct line between Charlie Parker and heavy metal singers, there is probably even a connection there. Some of Parker's reedy playing on the slow ballads of 1948 (for example the peerless "Out Of Nowhere") can even sound, sonically, a little like Eric Clapton's '60s guitar blues lines. There is, of course, that well-known quote from the sixties: "If Charlie Parker were alive today, he'd think he was living in a room full of mirrors." Everybody now sounded like Parker in some way. The melodic arc of "Yesterday" surely echoes Charlie Parker (This is subject to any notable similarity between "Yesterday" and the Neapolitan song that has been alleged: if confirmed, Parker may not be the sole explanation for the tune's melody! In any event, popular music changed after Charlie Parker. The Beatles were among those who absorbed this change in approach).

Later, there were signs of Parker even in children's television themes: the "Sesame Street Theme" is very Parker-like, as are the themes to the cartoons "The Flinstones" and "Top Cat"—there was even a popular sports (cricket) television advertising jingle, first heard in the late 1970s, that directly copied a brief part of Parker's "Moose The Mooch," as a useful hook. It is probably no surprise, therefore, that The Beatles placed the "'Moonglow'—'Ooh Bop She Bam'" hook as high in the chord as it could go in "She Loves You" (that is, the top melody line)—their final teacher in this may well have been the "Bird," whether they knew it or not.

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